If I don't say thanks, I'll cry

It’s June 22th, and I can’t believe it. It’s not June’s fault. I’m just amazed that the month is two-thirds over. And since summer is only three months long, two-thirds of one-third equals, like, some significant portion over. There’s a reason Brian does our taxes.

Today also is this sneaky fox's last day of kindergarten.

Marin with fox face paint

Marin with fox face paint

Every time I take a precious minute to reflect on time, I feel a little disoriented and out-of-breath. Still all I feel like writing about today is time and how it’s flying but, I won't. We all know it and saying it over and over again doesn't seem to help. There isn’t a thing any of us can do to slow it down, you know, aside from standing in line at Target with a toddler who has to pee. Unfortunately, I can't do that everyday.

So instead of talking about flying time, I'll do what I think Oprah would want me to do and focus on gratitude. And, what specifically am I thankful for this school year? I don't know- a lot.

While my brain was getting warmed up, I asked Marin in my awkward mom-to-6-year-old concept translation, “what happened that made you really happy this year?” Of course, she immediately rattled off all four of the right answers: her teachers, the fun stuff she got to do, meeting new friends, and lunch. And, of course, she’s totally right.

sikora shazadi kindergarten teachers

Here are her teachers. They’re seriously awesome. These two people are smart, creative, and infinitely kind. And perhaps most importantly if you have to work in a confined space with 24 people repeatedly calling your name, they are a really fantastic team. We couldn’t have asked for a better start for Marin. They’re so great, in fact, that we're hoping to go kindergarten again with them next year when Baya starts school. Yep. It only took about six months for me to do what I said I never would. I became "that parent" and name-requested these teachers for my kid. Actually, I name-requested these teachers for Brian and I. We're not quite ready to leave Room 2. 

To her second point, below are just a handful of the great things she got to do this year. There were field trips, art shows, music shows, high school sports, community events, special classroom guest speakers (Grandma!), and more, more, more. It made me want to be back in elementary school—except as an adult who could drink wine at night with her chicken nuggets after a long day reading, adding, and gluing tiny pieces of paper together.

And yes, she made some new friends. They’re delightful. I get to overhear their hilarious conversations when they compare knowledge on reptiles and Sketchers shoes. They sing loud and demand attendance at impromptu talent shows that, frankly, would benefit from a little more planning and rehearsing.

Lastly, lunch. I guess I understand why she was thankful for food each day but lunch definitely did NOT make my list. Lunch-making must be the most mind-numbing, monotonous task ever. It makes me want to do laundry. Night after night after night, I made the exact same thing: a sandwich with one slice each of ham and turkey (no mayo or nothin’) cut in half and put into the baggie, one bag of Fritos, one Tupperware with fruit, and an occasional stray cookie. It looked nothing like the fresh and colorful bento boxes that all the better moms on the internet were fixing. Sigh.

In addition to Marin's list, there are a handful of other things I’m thankful for…

I'm thankful for the couple extra minutes she and I had by ourselves on my drop-off and pick-up days. I'm not sure what we did with this time except take a lot of silly selfies.

I'm also thankful for these two. Seriously, they’re wonderful friends and are the only reason we never missed the bus. Not once. People who know me know what a truly remarkable feat this is. They’re like a Swiss train and could be counted on to be on our corner at precisely 8:10 every day with a cheerful “good morning!”

I’m also thankful for our community and how everyone just shows up- both literally and figuratively- for our kids and each other.

falls church community school bus stop

Last but not least, I’m thankful for Brian. Few people know his "less is more" communication style was the inspiration behind Twitter’s 140-character limit. And though he says few words, the ones he does make a ton of sense.

So, I might not be able to stop time but I can say thank you for the gifts. Through the blur, it was a truly been a wonderful school year.

deliciously technical and controversial

My meetings started here this morning. As my grandfather would have said it, "We couldn't have had a prettier day." And, it's AUGUST.  In DC.

Gorgeous weather aside, I had the pleasure of working with a group of scientists gathered in DC this week to share their climate change research and talk about the challenges they see in doing this work going forward.

As is so often the case with highly-skilled experts, the technical challenges are big-- no doubt-- but those don't scare them. The issues that keep them up at night are around talking about their findings, building understanding and acceptance, gaining support, and, ultimately, seeing behavior change. In short, all of the communications stuff. I learned this week that answering the common question, "what do you do?" can start a debate in a bar.

The vested man above is Paul Ollig. He's a National Park Service employee and the Chief of Interpretation for the National Mall and Memorial Parks.  He's a fantastic storyteller-- if you ever have a chance to walk the Mall with him, you're guaranteed to learn something new. So, Paul led a tour today for this group of climate scientists to talk about climate change impacts to the Mall and the city and park's adaptation efforts-- including the construction of a massive levee to protect the monuments from storm surges.

Before setting off, he opened up a discussion on what techniques are effective when talking about climate science. The insights shared by the group were great-- and I think can be a good starting point to communicating any highly technical and controversial material.

  1. Humanize your work. Describe why you personally are drawn to the specifically challenges. What experiences or beliefs lead you to this point?
  2. Chunk the message. Talking with someone who is incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their work can feel like being sprayed with a fire hose. Be able to chunk your message into "bite site" points and know how to sequence them in case people ask for more information.
  3. Avoid trigger words (audience-dependent). Know your audience and what trigger words might cause them to shut down and stop listening. For some, "climate change" are those trigger words that have such a strong association that it might be difficult to overcome someone's position. The goal often is to talk about the impacts, the risks, the behavior changes needed, etc. Being flexible enough to do that with more general language can keep a much-needed conversation going.
  4. Make it visual. Snow, I learned, is a visually compelling way to talk about climate change. What are the pictures that help people understand the risks and impacts of your issue?  Use those.
  5. Take opportunities to talk with kids. Of course, any conversation with a kid has to be age appropriate-- and ideally pre-approved by a parent or teacher.  The point is though that kids help you test how accessible your message is. Can a 5th grader understand your point? Kids will also has great questions and will typically come to a conversation with fewer preconceived ideas. If nothing else, you both might learn something.

One of my colleagues has this great picture of Einstein with a quote that reads, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."  I love this because it's so true. Times (many, many times) in the past that I've stumbled over technical messages have come down to precisely this problem.  My understanding was more superficial that I realized. Engaging with an active listener can quickly reveal those holes.  

So, if there was one overarching recommendation, it would be to know your topic well.  Know it so well that you can avoid jargon or terms that only another technician would understand. My key takeaway from meeting with these awesome scientists this week is that they're not out to impress anyone with their smarts-- though their knowledge and skills certainly are impressive.  They've trying to make a difference in the world and you can only do that by bringing others along.

move right

When we win a new consulting job there is excitement and movement. The win justifies the research, writing, thought, and collaboration work invested. That’s exciting. The hunt is over and it paid off this time. 

There is also movement- a state of being our business model depends on.  Without much seasonality to the sales cycle, we need a reason for things to happen. Wins mean new project assignments and elevated responsibilities that are certainly good for the victors. The vacancies left create a trickle-down effect that is generally good for everyone else.

Without the swirl and churn of a periodic win, the business feels stagnant—even as billable hours flow and profits earned.

So we go in search of more wins. Because of the limits on discretionary spending and the finite nature of most budgets, we push beyond the clients serve today to find a client we’re not yet serving. In and of itself, this pursuit isn’t wrong but in practice it is distracting. 

Between wins, there is a better way to create movement. Instead of bouncing to the next RFP, we can dig in—really dig in—on the issue we were hired to solve. While fulfilling the client’s need, we can find the others working this issue (wherever they might be), start conversations, do the primary research, explore, talk to, test out, and refine the solutions. 

Every win should mean fulfilling the commitment to the client AND making a contribution to the community.